Author: Leah Fleming
Lucky for me I picked this book up on a Saturday, and we went for a drive as a family (and I read) and then we came home and I had nothing too pressing that HAD to be done so I read for a bit, then I did dinner and then I read some more….. and missed my bedtime but finished the book. If only I could have had a similar day today… but never mind, it was productive.
Leah Fleming is an author I was unfamiliar with before The Last Pearl but she has quite the back catalogue, perhaps something I need to look into when I have some time.
The Last Pearl is set in the last quarter of the 19th Century, beginning in both York and Perthshire before an oceanic crossing to America.
Fleming weaves the stories of the wealthy beautifully with those of the poor and some of our leading characters have the opportunity to live at both ends of the scale.
Greta Costello is a happy and hardworking girl who is always thinking of her family and trying to better their situation. They haven’t always been poor but when her father died young the family fell of hard times. Greta will do all that she can to help her mother support them, and her two younger siblings, as long as she can keep her reputation. Greta works in the market on the weekends, helps her mother with laundry and helps out an older widowed jeweler with some cooking and cleaning.
Her dedication pays off and the jeweler starts teaching her a little about repairs and pearls, skills that will help her throughout her future because there will always be work for a good pearl stringer. Greta knows enough to know that life doesn’t always run smooth so when her employment with the jeweler is cut short she is determined to find something new, away from the laundry.
Greta was a character that I loved, she was dedicated, hard working and determined to find a better life for her family. She recognised all her mum did for them and wanted to change their circumstances to make her life easier. In most of her decisions she put the needs of her family first, a sacrifice which she didn’t realise the depth of at the time.
Jem Baillie is a hardworker in Perthshire with his parents. He and his dad work in forestry and fish for pearls. The last pearl they found together was a beauty, a Queen of pearls, and one that Sam Baillie wanted no-one to find out about, not even his wife. He wants to put it aside for Jem’s education so that he can make something better of himself but a shifty pearl dealer manages to swindle it and Jem vows revenge.
The Last Pearl places a lot of emphasis on the importance of family; doing right by the family and respecting your family at every turn. All of the families featured in the book are very different; socially, economically and religiously but they all share deep bonds of love.
The Last Pearl is very much a history lesson about pearls as much as a tale about the characters. We learn a lot about the superstitions surrounding them along with their history. It is clear to me that Fleming has done her homework on pearls and managed to tie it all together with relevance to the story. I had never given much though to pearls really but this look at the hows, the whys and the quality was fascinating.
There were characters I loved and characters I loathed. Fleming has written a great book with secret motivations and everyone having their reasons for what they do, and most of those were quite noble but the ones that weren’t were abominable. If it was a reaction she was after I sure had one.
All of the characters are well rounded, they are multi faceted and there is more to them than what you first see and I love that about the character development. Eben was a scoundrel, of that there was never any doubt, and the further in we got the more I despised him. Over time we discovered a little more about his past and that helped explain some of his quirks but it didn’t make me sympathetic to him as is sometimes the case.
Greta certainly gained my sympathies, she only ever chose what she thought was best for her family; always putting what she might like last. Leading her to America where she had to settle in a strange place on her own without a single ally. Her strength and initiative saw her right and no matter what obstacles arose to trip her Greta managed to fight her way back up and gain strength through the hardships.
In all The Last Pearl was a fascinating and exciting journey into the past, spanning decades and continents, and allowing us a glimpse into a past I would never have imagined.
Leah can be followed on Facebook, her Website